Knowing Dickens

Knowing Dickens

Rosemarie Bodenheimer
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Knowing Dickens
    Book Description:

    In this compelling and accessible book, Rosemarie Bodenheimer explores the thoughtworld of the Victorian novelist who was most deeply intrigued by nineteenth-century ideas about the unconscious mind. Dickens found many ways to dramatize in his characters both unconscious processes and acts of self-projection-notions that are sometimes applied to him as if he were an unwitting patient. Bodenheimer explains how the novelist used such techniques to negotiate the ground between knowing and telling, revealing and concealing. She asks how well Dickens knew himself-the extent to which he understood his own nature and the ways he projected himself in his fictions-and how well we can know him.

    Knowing Dickens is the first book to systematically explore Dickens's abundant correspondence in relation to his published writings. Gathering evidence from letters, journalistic essays, stories, and novels that bear on a major issue or pattern of response in Dickens's life and work, Bodenheimer cuts across familiar storylines in Dickens biography and criticism in chapters that take up topics including self-defensive language, models of memory, relations of identification and rivalry among men, houses and household management, and walking and writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6010-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Frequently Cited Works
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 What Dickens Knew
    (pp. 1-19)

    In April 1939 Virginia Woolf began to write an experimental memoir that was to be published posthumously as “A Sketch of the Past.” Just a few pages in, Dickens showed up. Woolf had been speculating about what made her a writer: a capacity to receive sudden shocks from life, combined with an ability to make the world whole again by finding the words to explain, and so to blunt “the sledge-hammer force of the blow.” Writing is essential to her for this reason, she muses, yet this internal necessity “is one of the obscure elements in life that has never...

  6. Chapter 2 Language on the Loose
    (pp. 20-54)

    Dickens wrote little about his own art. Even his letters to John Forster—who claimed to have read everything Dickens wrote before it was published (Forster 89)—are more likely to express his difficulties with deadlines or the agonies of beginning a new book than to throw any light on the private process of composition. The few comments he did make tell a consistent story: Dickens saw himself as inhabiting his characters from the inside, and he believed that characters should reveal themselves in dialogue without a narrator’s analysis or explanation. To the generations of readers and critics who have...

  7. Chapter 3 Memory
    (pp. 55-89)

    In Dickens’s first fantasies about editing the periodical that was to become Household Words, he imagined a collective narratorial presence called “the shadow,” calling it “a kind of semi-omniscient, omnipresent, intangible creature.” He elaborated his idea in a letter of October 1849 to John Forster, after completing the sixth number of David Copperfield, in which David tries to forget the dark knowledge of his childhood sufferings, and becomes “A New Boy in More Senses Than One” (DC 16). The capitalized and personified Shadow adumbrated in the pages of Dickens’s letter is a very odd creature indeed. Despite its ominous name,...

  8. Chapter 4 Another Man
    (pp. 90-125)

    “Another Man” shows up regularly in Dickens’s fiction. He often plays the role of a romantic rival, but he is more than likely to double as part of the self. Dickens took great delight in the idea of “t’other one,” and rarely missed an opportunity to play it out in different keys. Augustus Moddle sounds the note of comic pathos as he flees from marriage with Charity Pecksniff: “I love another. She is anothers. Everything appears to be somebody else’s” (MC 54). Years later, in Our Mutual Friend, multiple doublings and triplings of male figures structure the whole novel, and...

  9. Chapter 5 Manager of the House
    (pp. 126-169)

    Shortly after Dickens’s twenty-seventh birthday, he tried to put his parents away in a cottage. John Dickens, whose debts had been accumulating for some years, was headed for bankruptcy again; his Holborn landlord had given him notice and bill collectors were at his door. Midway through Nicholas Nickleby and relatively secure in his prospects, Dickens decided to settle the matter of his embarrassing parents once and for all. After completing the monthly number for March 1839, he would find them a cottage far from London, pay the rent, give them an allowance, and get his father out of the vicinity...

  10. Chapter 6 Streets
    (pp. 170-204)

    Should you want to know how to get to the coffee-house where Mr. Squeers stays when he is in London, Dickens’s narrator will be glad to oblige: from that particularly steep point on Snow Hill, turn into the coachyard of the Saracen’s Head Inn, noting the booking office on your left and the spire of St. Sepulchre’s to your right; straight ahead “you will observe a long window with the words ‘coffee-room’ legibly painted above it” (NN 4). Or, perhaps you would prefer to get to Mrs. Jellyby’s house from Lincoln’s Inn: ask Mr. Guppy and he will tell you...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 205-208)

    I began to write this book because Dickens always surprised me. The canniness and honesty about human fantasy that are so consistently woven into the fabric of his writing would catch me off guard time after time. He is the great English realist of the fantasy life. That is very different from saying that he is a fantasist, that he writes like a dreamer, or, as Taine and Lewes put it in the nineteenth century, that his work is monomaniacal or hallucinatory. It means instead that Dickens had a peculiar access to his own fantasy; he was capable, as many...

  12. Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 209-220)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-238)